Leading in an Amish Paradise: humanistic leadership in the Old Order Amish

Charles Keim, Masoud Shadnam

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The authors examined the traditional leadership practiced by the Old Order Amish located in the Holmes and Wayne counties of America. Despite popular stereotypes, this community is remarkably innovative and resilient. Amish leadership aligns with the central tenets of humanistic leadership and provides a rich illustration of how such a leadership paradigm can foster a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable community. Unlike current leadership models that focus on instrumental values like wealth, profit and growth, Amish leadership is concerned with faith, community and living a simple life with purpose and dignity. Design/methodology/approach: The primary data required for this paper were collected by the lead author during a six-month ethnographic study on several Amish communities located in Ohio. The authors also consulted a large set of archival data, including think tank reports, census data, biographies, magazine features and academic publications, which helped in placing the primary data in perspective and reminding of the particularities of the contexts from which the primary data were collected. For the data analysis, the authors used a thematic analysis approach to allow the salient themes of Amish humanistic leadership emerge from the data. Findings: A total offour themes emerged from this study: (1) leadership as local identity and practice; (2) leaders without benefits, chosen by the lot; (3) leaders present matters, followers discuss and decide; (4) community welfare as the yardstick for evaluation. These themes highlighted some of the key aspects of humanistic leadership eclipsed in the mainstream theories of management and leadership. They showed how the Amish respond to the encroachment of technology, which holds critical clues for how humanistic leaders can place the needs of their people before the demands of their shareholders. By examining Amish leadership in detail, this study demonstrated the potential of humanistic leadership for creating a strong and sustainable community while also contributing to the empirical foundation of humanistic management. Originality/value: Given the closed nature of the Amish, only few academic studies exist, which examined their leadership style. Furthermore, the traditional and conservative nature of the Amish community has prevented critics from investigating their leadership as a model for revitalizing other communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-485
Number of pages13
JournalCross Cultural and Strategic Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Amish
  • Community
  • Culture
  • Humanism
  • Humanistic leadership
  • Leadership

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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